The Woman’s National Committee for Law Enforcement was a federation of Protestant women’s organizations. It formed in 1922 to promote more vigorous enforcement of Prohibition laws. Organized at both the national and state levels, it claimed membership of twelve million women by 1932.
Note that it is often spelled the Women’s National Committee for Law Enforcement. Even in some of its own documents!
Lucy Peabody & the Woman’s National Committee for Law Enforcement
National chair Lucy Peabody (Mrs. Henry Peabody) asserted that opposition to National Prohibition was rebellion. She said it was the fourth rebellion against the United States constitution since the founding of the nation. She strongly believed that government could suppress opposition. Thus, the country could save National Prohibition.
The Woman’s National Committee for Law Enforcement adamantly opposed “any tampering with this momentous reform [of National Prohibition], and they used their time-honored tactics of exhortation and statistics, mingling their ideas with religious sentiment in a setting of luncheons and social hours to achieve this end.”1
However, the federation didn’t restrict its activities to social and religious environments. For example, Lucy Peabody appeared before Congress in 1926 to argue for stronger enforcement of Prohibition.
We represent here to-day not only organizations of women, but… we represent the home, the school, the church. And we stand firmly for no amendment to the eighteenth amendment. We hold the Constitution of the United States inviolate. We stand for no modification of the Volstead Act, but rather a strengthening. Also we stand for strict law enforcement, with the removal of all men who do not strictly enforce the law.
We believe that in… this country the law is observed as well as any law. Having traveled in various parts of this country we did not observe more drinking than ever.
We find conditions vastly improved. Health, as testified to by the insurance companies; morals, as shown by the statements which will be produced later; and certainly the economic condition, on the word of our Secretary of Commerce, seem to have justified prohibition.
The conditions in States like New York and Maryland, where there is no State enforcement law… are bad.
The only remedy… is to do what the Constitution requires to make the law enforceable. That would remove very many of the offenses which are piled up to prove that the Nation is not appearing to enforce its laws.2
The leader of the Committee continued.
As women, we know the old saloon and the wreckage in homes and lives of boys, men, and women. While the vote for the eighteenth amendment was the vote of the men–it was also the vote of the women….
We… have not done as much as we should have done to see to the enforcement of the law. Perhaps we… trusted too much and needed the awakening which has come.
We are convinced that we have a good law….3
-Firm Paternal Stance
Mrs. Peabody then took a paternal stance.
We are not satisfied that the law is being enforced in all places. We are sure it will be when the Nation has had time to adjust itself. In a well-regulated home it is the policy of a mother to work… knowing that perfect obedience requires law and discipline. It is never the policy…to say the children are disobedient–therefore let us give in to them and let them do as they like.4
But more and more Americans saw that Prohibition was highly unpopular. They thought it would take a police state to enforce it. And some leaders, such as Wayne Wheeler, promoted just that.
In addition, they increasingly believed Prohibition was a failure. But worse than that, they saw it as a disaster. They included organized crime, corruption, disrespect for law, the glamorization of drinking and defying the law, and many other problems.
Resources: Woman’s National Committee for Law Enforcement
Woman’s National Committee for Law Enforcement. Gains in the U.S.A. during Prohibition Period. Reasons Why we Support the 18th Amendment. Cambridge, MA: Woman’s National Committee for Law Enforcement , 1926.
Woman’s National Committee for Law Enforcement. Hearing before the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives, Washington, DC, March 12, 1930. Boston: Woman’s National Committee for Law Enforcement, 1930. Lucy Peabody testified.
Woman’s National Committee for Law Enforcement. What about the Women? Cambridge, MA: Woman’s National Committee for Law Enforcement, 1931.
1. Everest, A. Rum Across the Border. Syracuse: Syracuse U Press, 1978, p. 129.